Every Writer needs a tool box. There are many drawers to it, of course, and many skills are needed to fill it. In his book On Writing, Stephen King gives several great ideas about the Writer’s Toolbox, and what should go in it. Sound writing skills are the biggest one, and of course those come only with practice. Only slightly farther down the list – but still on the first tier of the tool box – are books on writing itself.
I know, I know – there are thousands of books on writing, and many of them aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. But, as with On Writing, there are many books on writing that are absolute gems, and deserve a place in a writer’s tool box. I do not often spend money on books about writing, but those I have purchased I consider my best friends – at least when it comes to pursuing my craft.
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman
Writing Dialogue, by Tom Chiarella
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them), by Jack M Bickham
Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary (Third Edition), by Marc McCutcheon
On the Art of Reading, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
On the Art of Writing, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
A few things to note about these books:
The First Five Pages, though published in 2000, may seem a bit outdated in the fact that it does not address the place of electronic submissions at all. At the time, emailing query letters was not on the radar. Now they are the norm, as most agencies and publishers have gone to a “no paper submissions” policy. Even so, the message delivered in this book is sound, and only needs a slight mental “tweak” now and then to transfer its lessons to modern practical use.
The three most practical tomes in the list (for me) are 38 Most Common…(etc); The Plot Thickens; and the Descriptionary – which is a brilliant way to look up something when you know what it is – just not what it is called.
The last two titles, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (he who originated the now widely revered Oxford Book of English Verse), are more likely a matter of personal taste. I’ve said in recent posts that I come from a more classical tradition, with older tastes in literature, and these last two books reflect that preference. The two books are actually a compilation of lectures that Quiller-Couch gave at Cambridge University between 1913 and 1917. While the delivery is rather dense for modern tastes, his lectures on Jargon, The Practice of Writing, and On Style (all taken from Art of Writing) are three to which I continually return, to rejuvenate my vision of what it means to aspire to truly great literature – and then work for it.